Three years ago as of this week, the novel I’d consider the “Book of My Heart” was published. On Saturday, June 14, when Imaginary Girls is officially three years old, I will tell you all why it connects so deeply to me and why I’d consider it the book of my heart apart from all books I’ve written or will write. I’ll also hold a giveaway for some elusive hardcovers!
So what is a book of an author’s heart, you may ask—and why say such a thing about one book and not others, when we love all our books and put pieces of ourselves into every one? I’ve asked a few author friends to share the book that holds a distinct and special place in their heart and tell us why.
Here is Brandy Colbert telling us why her debut novel, Pointe, was, from the very beginning, the book of her heart…
Guest post by Brandy Colbert
When I was ten years old, a TV movie aired called I Know My First Name Is Steven. If you’re of a certain generation, you’re probably nodding right now, remembering, at the very least, the title—but probably more so the horrifying true story it was based on.
In short, the movie tells the life of Steven Stayner, who was kidnapped at the age of seven and returned to his family when he was fourteen. The film was a two-parter and I remember dreading the sight of the television the second evening. I wanted to finish the movie but I was so terrified by Steven’s story that I’d barely slept the night before. And I knew it would take a long time for me to stop thinking about him and everything he’d endured . . . but I sat down and turned it on because I had to see it through to the end.
He and I didn’t have anything in common, really. Along with our racial and gender differences, he was living in California and I was being raised in southwest Missouri. He was also fourteen years older than me, but seeing what had happened to him as a child made me realize just how vulnerable I was because of my age. It was the first time I understood that truly unspeakable things happen to kids—and that even though I came from a stable household with two loving parents, they might not always be around to protect me.
His story faded over time, but I never stopped thinking about Steven, and I couldn’t stop grieving for all the children who were in his situation and never made it out.
From the very beginning, I knew Pointe was the book of my heart. The story revolves around Theo, a seventeen-year-old ballet dancer whose best friend, Donovan, disappeared four years earlier. When he’s returned from captivity at the top of the book, the reader soon learns Theo was connected to the abduction. To anyone who knows me well, the book’s premise wasn’t a surprise: I’d danced for a long time growing up, and I’d been interested in long-term kidnapping cases since I first heard about Steven Stayner. I’d even periodically look for news on anyone involved in his story years and years after he’d been found.
But I only recently understood that Pointe is so special to me because the story that inspired it taught me the meaning of empathy.
I’ve always felt things deeply. Growing up, I was often called sensitive, and it’s taken a while to accept that yes, I am—but that being sensitive isn’t a character flaw, nor does it mean I am weak. Of course I sometimes wish I could be the person who doesn’t sob over stories about people and animals in faraway cities and countries, obsessing over lives and situations that have nothing to do with mine. Because there’s always that feeling of What can I do?, and that question can eat away at us sensitive types. Luckily, writing—and writing fiction, in particular—has always been the best way for me to deal with these big, insistent emotions that seem to take over with no warning.
Pointe isn’t about the abducted friend; in fact, Donovan hardly shows up on the page. Pointe is about what would happen if that abducted kid was your friend. And it’s about what would happen if you found out your biggest secret had contributed to the years of sexual abuse and violence forced upon your friend.
I’m thrilled anytime someone connects with the book, but I think one of the biggest compliments has been hearing that for some, the novel is not only realistic but also empathetic. Theo has to make some tough decisions over the course of the narrative, and I think, ultimately, she must choose to give in to her empathy or ignore it completely to move on with her life.
A couple of weekends ago, I took a road trip up to Northern California for a book event. On the way, I saw a sign announcing we’d entered the city of Merced. I immediately sat up straight in the passenger seat and stared down the sign until we’d passed: “Steven Stayner is from here.” Then I proceeded to tell my friend everything I knew about him, including that Steven had died in a motorcycle accident four months after the movie about him premiered, and that in 2010, Merced had built a bronze statue of him to honor the courage he’d shown in rescuing himself and another kidnapped boy when he was only fourteen.
As a lifelong writer, I’m so grateful to have published a novel, particularly one focused on topics I’ve felt so strongly about for decades. And heartbreaking as it is, I’m especially grateful that Steven Stayner chose to share his own story with the world. He risked his life to save the child his captor had recently abducted because he didn’t want that little boy to go through the manipulation and abuse he’d survived all those years. Heroic? Absolutely.
But that bravery was most certainly spurred by a deep sense of empathy.
Brandy Colbert grew up in Springfield, Missouri, and has worked as an editor for several national magazines. She lives and writes in Los Angeles. Pointe is her first novel. Visit her at brandycolbert.tumblr.com and on Twitter @brandycolbert.
The posts in the Book of Your Heart series:
Come back tomorrow for another Book of Your Heart guest blog! And look for the giveaway of Imaginary Girls on Saturday, June 14!